Coram responds to government review of civil legal aid

  • 23 February 2024

Coram has responded to the review of civil legal aid (RoCLA) launched by the Ministry of Justice in 2023 to identify options to improve the civil legal aid system, setting out 50 recommendations to improve the system for children, covering areas including means testing, fees and exceptional case funding.

Coram’s evidence includes contributions from Coram Children’s Legal Centre (CCLC), the Child Law Advice Service (CLAS) and Coram Voice. It sets out how civil legal aid providers including CCLC have done their best to function within the limitations of the current legal aid system and to meet growing demand from some of the most vulnerable children and young people in the country.

The evidence also invites the Ministry of Justice to return to the core purpose of legal funding for those without means: to achieve a society which gives everyone a fair chance. In the introduction, Coram states: “Our responses are rooted in decades of organisational and individual expertise. We hope that the RoCLA process allows us to contribute to the reconstitution of a system of legal aid which not only works for, but is built around, the needs, rights and best interests of children.”

The response sets out Coram’s support for united calls for change across the legal profession notably those of the Legal Aid Practitioners’ Group, the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, Young Legal Aid Lawyers, and the Law Society.

Coram’s recommendations for changes to the current system include:

  • The Ministry of Justice must take on responsibility for monitoring legal aid demand, as well as supply;
  • Civil legal aid rates should increase with the amount they have lost in the decades of inflation since they were set in 1996 and must be index-linked to future-proof their stability; fees should be immediately increased by 50% to allow for fair wages and to allow for investment and development of the sector
  • Child recipients of legal aid should be genuinely exempted from means testing
  • All looked after children and care leavers up to the age of 25 should be passported through the means test for legal aid;
  • School exclusion matters should be brought back into scope of legal aid
  • Immigration matters engaging human rights arguments should be brought back into scope of legal aid
  • All initial family law advice should be brought into scope of legal aid
  • Legal aid should be available in all cases in which a child is at risk of abuse

Rosalyn Akar Grams, Managing Director of Legal Practice and Children’s Rights at CCLC, said: “Legal aid is the backbone of access to justice for children in the UK, and we are proud that it is at the very heart of the work that we do. CCLC has over 40 years’ experience in providing legal advice and representation to children, and in that time we have seen the civil legal aid system damaged by strain and neglect. The review of civil legal aid is a valuable opportunity for the Ministry of Justice, not only to provide life support for a system that is on its knees, but to think again about building a framework for access to justice in the UK with children’s needs and rights at its core.”

You can read the Coram submission here: